HC Deb 08 July 1890 vol 346 cc1104-7
MR. CHANNING (Northampton)

I beg to ask the First Lord of the Treasury whether he is aware that the 4th Article of the Capitulation of Heligoland in 1807 provided that the inhabitants should not be molested in their privileges, and that the 10th Article of Capitulation stated that it is one of the privileges of the inhabitants of the island not to be obliged to serve on board kings' ships contrary to their inclinations, and guaranteed that privilege to the inhabitants in the future; whether any time limit was assigned to this-guarantee of privileges; and whether Her Majesty's Government have stipulated in the Anglo-German Convention that Germany shall be bound to maintain the privileges thus guaranteed by England in 1807?


The provisions of the Articles are accurately stated. There is no record of any time limit. By paragraph 3 of the 12th Article of the Agreement all natives of Heligoland and their children born before the date of the signature of the Agreement are free from the obligation of service in the military and naval forces of Germany; and by paragraph 4 of the same Agreement it is provided that native laws and customs now existing shall remain, as far as possible, undisturbed.

MR. W. E. GLADSTONE (Edinburgh, Mid Lothian)

I wish to ask, in connection with this important question, whether the right hon. Gentleman will lay on the Table of the House the Capitulation to which reference has been made?


I will inquire if that can be done.

MR. SUMMERS (Hadderefield)

I have a Motion on the Paper for the production of the Articles of Capitulation, and I believe it is not opposed.


Are we to understand that the privileges guaranteed without time limit in 1807 are not restricted, and, to some extent, violated by the imposition of the time limit under the Anglo-German Agreement?


I have stated that the privileges in question are guaranteed to all persons now living, and I think we have gone as far as we could in the circumstances.


I have one more question. In what position will those Heligolanders, who under the second section of the 12th Article of the Agreement exercise the right of option of retaining their British nationality, be placed? Will their children born after the Treaty be in the same position as the children of Heligolanders who do not exercise that option?


I think it must be clear to the hon. Gentleman that that is a question of a legal character, of which notice ought to be given.


I beg to ask the First Lord of the Treasury whether the confidential Report of the Military Authorities with regard to the strategical value of Heligoland has been shown by him to the hon. Member for Preston; and, if so, whether he will consent to lay upon the Table of the House a Copy of this Report, as well as Copies of those portions of the evidence given before the Royal Commission on Colonial Defences, which were instanced by Lord Knutsford on 30th March, 1885, as proving that persons of experience were of opinion that Heligoland was of strategical value to this country?


I did show the hon. Member for Preston a confidential Report by the Military Authorities relative to Heligoland, and there is nothing unusual in such a proceeding. As I said on the 26th ult., I cannot consent to lay on the Table confidential Reports of our military advisers.


Will the right hon. Gentleman show this Report to other Members?


That depends on the circumstances of the application. I have no objection, as a rule, to show confidential Reports to hon. Members when that confidence is not likely to be abused.


Perhaps I may be allowed to read the following passage from a letter written by the hon. Member for Preston to one of his constituents. He says— As the cession to another Power of any portion of British territory, especially in Europe, is a very important matter, I may any that, having been shown by Mr. W. H. Smith, with his usual kindness and courtesy, a confidential Report of our Military Authorities, I have no doubt whatever on that score as to the wisdom of the Agreement recently concluded. I wish to ask, therefore, whether the right hon. Gentleman will show this Report to other Members?


I regret that letter was written. I think that when a confidential Report is shown confidentially to an hon. Member of this House, it is an error in judgment to refer to the contents of that Report.


I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman, with reference to the second part of the question of my hon. Friend, whether the Government will adopt the usual course, where a Minister of the Crown has referred to evidence in support of his statement, of laying the evidence on the Table?


It is not the usual course to lay on the Table the evidence on which the Ministers of the Crown act in matters of this kind. I think the hon. Member has, in his question, put the statement of Lord Knutsford too high. What he did say was, that there were some persons who entertained a different view as to the strategical value of Heligoland, and I answered a question in the House to that effect some few days ago. There is hardly a single thing on which some person cannot be found to differ.

MR. BRYCE (Aberdeen, S.)

The right hon. Gentleman has left the question in some obscurity. I will ask whether, as the right hon. Gentleman has shown this communication to an hon. Member on his own side of the House, he intends to refuse to show it to an hon. Member sitting on the other side; or whether he will show it to hon. Members on this side as well?


I may ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he conceives that the error of judgment lay with the hon. Member for Preston, or with himself?


I think it is quite possible that the error of judgment may have lain with me, but I think also that my hon. Friend committed an error of judgment in referring in writing to a confidential Paper. I think it is undesirable that the hon. Member for Aberdeen should put to me a question of the character of that which he has asked. I have always been prepared to show confidential Papers of importance to hon. Members sitting in any part of the House. I have not drawn a distinction between hon. Members opposite and Members on the Government side; but now that this Paper has been referred to, I must exercise my own discretion as to whether or not it is right that I should show it.


I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether we are to understand that, in his opinion, there are hon. Members in this House who, if shown a confidential Report, would betray his confidence?


Order, order!


HOW, in the absence of this confidential communication bearing on the strategical value of Heligoland, is the House to come to any proper decision as to whether it is right for this country to give up Heligoland or not?

[No answer was given.]